In this week’s Limerick Leader column, Martin Kiely looks ahead to the battle for the chairman’s role in Limerick GAA.
In a little over three weeks from now the Limerick County Board will hold their annual Convention on December 14.
This is a time when the affairs of the year will be discussed and given that some elections take place this year we can be assured of having a pretty big attendance. Conventions are supposed to provide some real debate and I can remember a time when they once did but sadly the quality of debate over the past few years has been pretty poor.
Clubs will tell you that they are losing their voice both on a local and national level because Conventions and national Congress are now very controlled events and instead of change taking place from the bottom up it’s now very much a case from the top down. All of this is taking place at a time when so many clubs are struggling both from a financial and playing base point of view.
Much lip service has been given to this over the past few years but very little in the way of mapping the future of clubs in Limerick has taken place.
I can see a time in the near future where Limerick might have just over 40 clubs registered. The playing base in rural clubs is declining and many of those clubs are struggling to pay registration fees and put teams on the field.
In observing the County Board meetings and club games it’s the same people that are keeping clubs going for a very long time. Many of those people have given a life time of service to their clubs and parishes but some would love to hand the reins over to someone else. Many clubs are struggling under heavy bank loans that were taken out in better times but trying to find new people to carry the responsibility for that is a real and ongoing challenge.
Limerick County Board has a duty to look forward and to do that they need to have a census carried out in every club in Limerick. We need to see the bare facts and then and only then will we know what the future holds for Gaelic games in every corner of Limerick.
Many clubs just won’t be able to survive due to the lack of a player base but with some vision and planning the foundation of Gaelic games won’t be lost in those parishes. The running of the County Board is now very much vested in the three main officers. Some sitting at the top table tell me that they have little enough say, one officer told me last week, “Look, the power in this Board is with the Secretary and the Treasurer, they are calling the shots and in reality we have little enough say.”
That’s no great surprise to me and to anyone with their ear to the ground in Limerick but this should not be the case. I’m not impressed with certain aspects of Limerick GAA but more disappointing is the lack of voices around the County Board table and from the delegates at County Board meetings.
Now let me say on record that some very good things are happening and I have not been slow to echo them in this page but the covert nature in which some business is done is not how many people would like it to be. Plenty of clubs and supporters will say it to me but they have a duty to stand up and be counted when it matters. Those in power always need to be challenged because only by doing so will you get the sort of leadership you deserve.
This Convention should be well attended as a couple of positions are up for grabs but in reality the main talking point will centre around the challenge of Pat Heffernan current Vice Chairman and Oliver Mann the sitting Chairman. I thought this challenge would have happened last year when Heffernan looked in a stronger position but he still has a fair degree of support on the ground.
The last couple of years have seen Chairman Oliver Mann kept busy and much of it was around poor handling of a few issues at the top table.
The Patrickswell man was in a weakened position last year and took some heavy hits from delegates at County Board meetings. He will have the vast majority of the top table on his side as some of them feel Pat Heffernan was out of line in not backing the County Board position on a few items.
Pat Heffernan has not been slow to ask some hard questions and that didn’t go down well. One delegate told me this week, “He asked questions in relation to bonuses and what percentage was paid and that hasn’t helped him within the Board.”
The Blackrock club man is a former Limerick hurler and served time as South Board Chairman but he will need to get the backing of some major clubs if he is to get over the line. I hold the view that his timing is wrong on this occasion and he will find it very difficult to get enough votes to defeat Oliver Mann.
Heffernan had the wind at his back when he supported the appointment of Tom Ryan and Ciaran Carey as intermediate manager last year.
Oliver Mann, Mike O’Riordan and Donal Morrissey were very much against appointing Ryan and Carey and they misread the mood of the clubs. Heffernan will need to rally much of that support if he is to have a serious chance.